The Myth of the Knowledge Society

We live in the era where the ‘Empires of the Mind’ dominate the arteries of global commerce. All that mind workers produce, replicate and innovate are cognitive constructs. We are told to get ahead of the curve, develop strategic advantage and all the popular business literature jargon, popularized by business anchors and business gurus like Shiv Khera, Arindam Chaudhuri and their tribe. The most recent addition to the tribe  is Chetan Bhagat.  All the hooplah about ‘meritocracy’ in India about having the brightest go to the best institutions, and the cry against affirmative action has a life of its own.  In 1968, meritocracy started off as a pejorative term, now it is often used phrase in popular discourse by right of centre political organizations globally with a positive spin on it.

Knowledge is a resource which is not freely available. Knowledge is culturally contextualized and embedded in specific discourse. The french philosopher Michel Foucault connected the word Knowledge always with Power as he said that Knowledge creates and sustains power relations. A person who has power would like to replicate it and maintain the status quo. As the French Sociologist  Pierre Bourdieu stated in his theory of the ‘Field’ that there are different capitals that a person possess’s: Cultural, Economic, Social.  Education used to be matter a matter of status and privilege, it has been democratized to an extent in the developing world with the proliferation of private universities. Governments simply cannot catch up, private enterprise steps in to meet the gap. But, is this private sector education providing the right skills for the information economy? Do they have the correct skills to work in a Infosys, Wipro or a Dell back-office, when millions are being de-patterned into thinking the correct way after the abysmally poor technical education, when these IT firms are spending millions in retraining thousands of employees to have the apt skill-set.

People can only go to private schools and elite educations institutions if they are born into the ideal niche, to go the cool public schools, have extra coaching and have music lessons. How many people crack competitive exams in India sans spending a hefty sum on private tutoring? Education of the right skill-set needed for the knowledge economy needs not only Intellectual Capital but Cultural and Economic as well.  I have an equation to illustrate the above.

Knowledge economy Skills = f(Intellectual, Cultural, Economic)

My Habitus is of an Engineer, so if you get engineers to do social theory; there will be influences from the quantitative sciences in my analysis.

In my opinion, knowledge is strength, information is power and there is an opportunity cost associated with it…in order to make it big within the paradigm of the knowledge economy, i am sad to say a degree is simply not enough. Its about having the right stuff at the right time at the right moment; Outliers contribute to our success whether we agree or not. Knowledge is often the ideas of the ruling class as Marx said.  Knowledge fuels power differentials and aggravates class inequalities. Meritocracy is a myth in the developing world. People of a particular strata enter the hallowed temples of Knowledge called Ivy Leagues, IIM’s,  Grande Ecoles etc.  A Knowledge based society cannot be an ethical construct even in an intellectual discourse as it amplifies unethical dimensions in itself.  Lets get our definitions right,  India is not Electronic City Bangalore,  and America is not route 128. Mind workers do not manufacture or produce grains. It can only provide employment to a handful, so what about the 99%?


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